By Miriam Ben-Yoseph
I couldn’t find the stone I placed on my father’s grave just before my mother and I left Romania and immigrated to Israel. I wanted to find that stone to prove to myself that the young girl who had left it there and the person standing there thirty years later are somehow still connected. I wanted to know if I still belonged to the country of my birth. I read and reread the Hebrew and the Hungarian inscriptions that were barely visible on my father’s headstone. I did it so many times that I could recite the whole thing with my eyes closed. When I opened my eyes I saw my husband pulling out weeds around the grave and cleaning the headstone with something that looked like a bandana.
“Let’s find the other graves,” my cousin said after a while. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were also buried there. It would not be hard to find those graves. This was a very small cemetery that had not changed much since we left Romania in 1965. Most Jews who survived the Holocaust and the brutal communist regime that followed left around the time we did. Like my mother, most of them died elsewhere, in Israel, America or Germany. My husband joined my cousin but I stayed behind. I remained at my father’s grave and looked for a stone that I could use to mark this visit. My husband and cousin had already placed theirs, next to each other, close to the headstone. I was looking for a stone that was different from theirs, one I could find easily if I came back again.
I could hear my cousin calling my name and felt irritated by the intrusion. I started pushing my wedding ring up and down my finger, a nervous habit I have had for years. And that was when it happened. The ring fell off my finger. I thought I saw where it went but when I bent down to pick it up I could not find it. I asked my husband and my cousin to come and help me. They looked and looked but the ring could not be found. “Never mind, my husband finally said. You wanted to leave something at your father’s grave. Your ring should do.” I was surprised by his words. I wasn’t sure until then that he listened to my stories. ”It is more than just that, my cousin replied. A ring has a perfect shape and it unites. A ring is forever.“
As we were leaving the cemetery I felt a great sense of relief. I knew I was home again.
Originally from Romania, Miriam Ben-Yoseph teaches and writes in the areas of place and identity. Her writings have been published in the U.S. and abroad. Ben-Yoseph was selected as the 2006 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Illinois Professor of the Year.